October 22, 2007

Universal Design Meets Green Design = Good Design

In 2004, at Designing for the 21st Century III, a group of Latin American visionaries crafted the document known as the "Rio Charter" or the "Rio Charter on Universal Design for Sustainable and Inclusive Development." They built upon a foundation laid by conference sponsors Adaptive Environments who clearly link Green and Universal Design:

Universal Design is also called Inclusive Design, Design-for-All and Lifespan Design. It is not a design style but an orientation to any design process that starts with a responsibility to the experience of the user. It has a parallel in the green design movement that also offers a framework for design problem solving based on the core value of environmental responsibility. Universal Design and green design are comfortably two sides of the same coin but at different evolutionary stages. Green design focuses on environmental sustainability, Universal Design on social sustainability.

LEED building certification awards points for Universal Design as sustainable green practice and the tourism industry accelerates the convergence between Universal Design and green building with the Davos Declaration. While MIT's House Research Consortium was preparing homes through their Open Prototype Initiative, Access Living in Chicago was applying good design with readily available materials to its offices as described below.

Universal Access Meets Green Design by and Melissa Schmitt Oct 16, 2007

The height of Jennifer Thomas' desk at Access Living, a Chicago non-profit outreach organization, adjusts to accommodate her wheelchair. She rolls effortlessly across non-toxic carpet to her recycled filing cabinet under energy-efficient indirect lighting. There are no doors to struggle with at the restroom entrances. Once inside, all the faucets are automatic, a benefit to both Thomas and the environment.

Best of all, Thomas said, the features "are seamless. They don't look like they're marked for people with disabilities. As other members of the population age, they can use these features as well."

Access Living's new building at 115 W. Chicago Avenue is touted as the only one in the city where both universal design and green design meet. The building, which has a LEED certificate for energy and environmental efficiency, recently won the Barrier-Free America Award from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The city most recently won that award for the design of Millennium Park, which opened in 2004.

Access Living staffers, city officials and experts in universal design held a workshop and tour at the building Tuesday entitled "Leadership in Action: Universal and Green Design For All."

"A building without barriers--it's a perfect example of what this building stands for," said Mayor Daley. "This building represents the future of construction in the city of Chicago and around the world."

The recently opened facility was built over five years on land donated by the city. The architect was Jack H. Catlin of LCM Architects in Chicago.

At some point in their lives, most Americans experience a functional limitation, such as arthritis, back problems or heart disease. They find themselves unable to navigate effectively in their homes, offices and public spaces.

The World Health Organization wrote a new definition of disability in 2001, classifying it as a predictable, universal experience. More than 190 member nations recognized the new definition, which will apply to a majority of the world population at some point in their lives.

Universal design offers a framework for creating places, products and communication systems that anyone can use, regardless of physical ability. They can range from can openers with large, comfortable handles to adjustable desks and easy-access cars.

The twin values of universal design and green design are at the centerpiece of Access Living's new building. It has energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and a green roof, which is accessible to people with disabilities.

Workstations accommodate a wide array of disabilities. Deaf workers communicate with a Video Relay System, allowing them to use sign language over a video screen with a specially trained operator. Elevators have front and back doors, which prevents people in wheelchairs from having to navigate to the front of a crowded space.

Some at the workshop said the need for universal design is especially acute today.

"Universal design is for all of us, especially the aging population," said Valerie Fletcher, executive director of Adaptive Environments, a non-profit that focuses on universal design."By 2050, over 25 percent of the population will be over 60 years old."



Posted by rollingrains at October 22, 2007 06:12 PM